Armenian guerrillas continue assault on Azerbaijani settlements

March 02, 1992|By Laura LeCornu | Laura LeCornu,Contributing Writer

BAKU, Azerbaijan -- Armenian guerrillas attacked Azerbaijani settlements in Nagorno-Karabakh yesterday, with no signs of an end to the bloodletting after the reported slaughter of about 1,000 Azerbaijanis in the town of Hodjali on Wednesday.

For the first time since Hodjali was captured, Azerbaijan television had a broadcast from Agdam, on the border of the enclave, showing truckloads of corpses and hundreds of refugees and wounded in scenes that are likely to spark violent public reaction in the capital.

Two people were injured and over 20 houses burned or destroyed in Shusha, the last important Azerbaijani town in Nagorno-Karabakh, after Armenian forces shelled the town from Stepanakert, the Armenian enclave's capital.

"This situation is very bad. We expect the attack to continue tonight," said Vahit Bayram, Shusha militia chief. "There has been no help from the government."

Over 1,000 Azerbaijanis were killed and 4,000 missing, wounded or frozen in the mountains after last week's killings in the town of Hodjali by Armenian militiamen backed by troops of the former Soviet Interior Ministry, Azerbaijani government officials said yesterday.

Several hundred Azerbaijanis seeking news about lost relatives gathered solemnly on a Baku street Saturday, the first day of a three-day mourning period declared for victims of what is described as a massacre.

"There is no word from the television and press," said a man in the crowd, Ahubov Tahin, a 58-year-old hospital worker from Baku. "I do not know if my father, mother and sisters survived the battle or not."

The people had gathered outside the headquarters of the powerful opposition coalition, the Popular Front, which controls half of the recently formed 50-member National Council.

Public reaction in Baku to the bloodshed in Nagorno-Karabakh has been subdued. Front officials attribute the silence to lack of information and fear of a crackdown by the government.

An anti-government rally scheduled by the front for Saturday was postponed because of concern that President Ayaz Mutalibov might use the opportunity to bring in troops of the former Soviet Union.

The nation is still haunted by the events of January 1990, when some 150 people were killed after Soviet troops barged into Baku to crack down on crowds demonstrating for independence.

"Armenians want to create a Christian world and get rid of Muslims," said Melhat, a woman standing in the crowd. Unemployed, Melhat, 30, said that she was left invalid after a Russian soldier beat her in 1990. "We must unite with Turkey and Iran; then we can be strong."

The Azerbaijani government, under fierce criticism for its alleged mishandling of the crisis, was conspicuously silent after the killings.

"President Mutalibov has sold out the country," said Niyazi Ibrahim, a press spokesman for the Popular Front. "We are isolated. Mutalibov has met with the Russian commanders of the 4th Army today. There is a plot to incite chaos here and then shoot it down," he said.

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